Speech Skill: Listening
The Speech Problem
Assuming that you truly want to communicate with others, listening is the most important speech skill of all. Unfortunately, its also the speech skill that is practiced the least.
Remember the joke about the psychiatrist? There he is, in his office, with a patient on the couch. While the patient pours his heart out, the psychiatrist is thinking about his upcoming dinner.
Thats the way it is with most of us, much of the time. Were thinking about other things instead of listening to whoever is speaking to us. Theres a grain of truth to the adage, in one ear and out the other, except that often the information doesnt even enter the one ear in the first place.
It will sound strange to refer to this as a sloppy speech habit, but it is. Were wired to listen; we just dont bother doing it all the time.
Because we can get away with it. Most of the time, the speaker wont know were not listening. As long as we continue to face him, keep a suitable expression on our face, and dont do something blatant such as belt out a show tune, how will he know that were actually somewhere else entirely? He wont.
But you do. And youre the one that has to make a commitment to truly listening. In other words, I want you to become an active listener. To listen actively, you need to change from being a passive target to being a contributor to the communication. Make this one change, and youll improve your communication skills a thousand fold.
Three Techniques For Active Listening
1) Setting The Stage For Listening Stop whatever else you are doing. Turn to face the speaker and make eye contact. If youre standing, your arms should be held loosely at your sides. If youre sitting, place your hands in your lap or loosely along each arm of the chair. Whether standing or sitting, do not cross your arms, which sends out a negative message. If youre sitting, your legs should also be uncrossed. Lean slightly towards the speaker. You want your body language to send the message that you are receptive to the speakers message.
2) Appropriate Advancement As the speaker speaks, make appropriate comments that advance the conversation. Just saying um or ah here and there wont do it. You need to show the speaker that youre actively listening to what hes saying by making statements or asking questions that show that youve been paying attention. Like the next technique, summarizing, this active listening technique works well in both face-to-face and communication situations where the speaker cant see you.
3) Summarizing - This is a particularly powerful technique for showing the speaker youve been paying attention whether youre in a face-to-face situation or listening over the phone. You can use it during conversation by saying something such as, You were saying that... and simply restating the speakers last point. Its most powerful use is at the end of the conversation, when its officially your turn to respond. Start by saying, You said that... and then summarize the speakers key points, closing by adding an action statement, something you will do as a result of what the speaker has said.
For example, You said that you dont feel that Ive been listening to you because I keep facing my computer screen when youre talking, and dont seem to have anything to add to the conversation. From now on, Ill give you my full attention when you speak to me.
Speech Exercise: Practice Active Listening
You will need a partner for this exercise. Return to the list of topics we used for the Tell-Me Game in Speech Lesson 2.
This time, you are going to be the listener instead of the speaker. Have your partner choose one of the speech topics and speak impromptu for two minutes. Your task is to be an active listener, and apply the three active listening techniques above. (Dont forget to set the stage properly!)
Perform this exercise at least three times, using different speech topics and working up to a speech time of three minutes.
The Benefits of Active Listening
When you listen actively, people communicating with you will:
- Feel more confident that theyve actually communicated a message to you.
- Feel more positive about you and the message youre communicating.
Speech Lesson 6 Homework Assignment
After youve practiced the exercise on and linked to this page, you need to continue practice being an active listener.
Concentrate on this speech skill this week by trying to apply the three techniques of active listening to every conversation you have.
Set up a session with your Speech Monitor or with the partner that you first did your Active Listening practice with for the end of the week and go through the Active Listening exercise on this page one more time. Ask him or her to evaluate how you are performing each of the three active listening techniques explained in this lesson.
Next week, well wrap up the course.